11f8fc0316bd222e4be7a53cee1d06c2-w204@1xSpringtime in a Broken Mirror by Mario Benedetti | Publishers Weekly

This rich, heartbreaking novel from the late Uruguayan writer Benedetti (1920–2009) (The Truce), first published in 1982, describes the devastating effects on one family of Uruguay’s military dictatorship in the 1970s and ’80s. Continue reading…

poetry-roundup-lede.w700.h467New Year, New Verse: 4 Great New Poetry Collections | Vulture

Poetry ought to be the preeminent form of this age — hell, every age. In a smattering of words, a poem can eulogize, satirize, criticize, proselytize. The greatest verse clues us into what Jane Hirshfield calls “poetry’s knowing,” its function of “clarification and magnification.” It’s the quintessential hybrid form: an amalgam of essay, lyric, story, polemic, and diary. Poets are penguins, to paraphrase E.E. Cummings. They use their wings to swim. Continue reading…

Bibliotekarien_konserverad_-_Skoklosters_slott_-_97136.tifOn Benno von Archimboldi | The Believer Logger

If Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 is a circular novel, then the figure of Benno von Archimboldi, along with the city of Santa Teresa, resides at its elusive center. He is the Nobel novelist par excellence, the prototypical long-obscure, sure-to-be-lately-recognized writer. For most of the novel, his existence remains peripheral and mysterious, and his entrance, in the book’s final section, does little to elucidate his enigmas. So how does one proceed into Archimboldi as a character in 2666? What is the best way to determine his metaphorical place in the novel? One way would be the way any writer would want to be investigated: through the work. Continue reading…

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On Charles Baudelaire’s “Le Voyage” | Full Stop

Full Stop excerpted my book on Roberto Bolaño’s 2666:

2666 begins with a quote—a fragment, really—from the 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire: “An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom.” Though the epigraph only cites Baudelaire’s name, the line comes from Geoffrey Wagner’s translation of the poem “Le Voyage,” from Baudelaire’s seminal work Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) (1857). Innovative, daring, and utterly original, Baudelaire laid the groundwork for modernism—he is, in fact, credited with coining the term “modernity”—with his sexually frank and morally ambiguous verse. He also raised some predictable controversies: six of his poems were deemed outrage aux bonnes mœurs (“insult to public decency”) and suppressed. One can easily imagine what a self-styled renegade like Bolaño would admire in a figure like Baudelaire. Continue reading…

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An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic 
by Daniel Mendelsohn |
San Francisco Chronicle

The critic James Wood begins his book “How Fiction Works” with this little dictum: “The house of fiction has many windows, but only two or three doors.” The same basic tenet can be applied, I think, to literary criticism. There are only so many ways one can write about a book. There is the New Critics-style textual approach: a no-frills method that sticks to the text itself, analyzing its properties and techniques wholly from within. One may take the historical stance (think of New Historicist critic Stephen Greenblatt) — that is, telling the history of the work itself, its cultural peculiarities, as well as its influence on subsequent generations, in order to gain insight into the time in which it was written. Also, a writer can enumerate his or her own personal experience with a book, a category Joyce Carol Oates referred to as “bibliomemoir”: how it changed, challenged or charged them. A writer can parody a novel or play or poem, employing the same techniques and stylistics, often for the sake of poking fun of the author’s quirks. Then, finally, there is the extrapolative technique, which is predicated on the idea that literature can matter to our everyday lives, or that books can be used to demonstrate principles of other intellectual discourses, like those Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture books that all end with … and Philosophy. Continue reading…

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Blind Spot 
by Teju Cole | San Francisco Chronicle 

Teju Cole’s newest work, “Blind Spot,” a collection of the author’s photos with accompanying textual commentary, is an eclectically brilliant distillation of what photography can do, and why it remains an important art form. Known for his novels “Open City” and “Every Day Is for the Thief,” Cole also is the photography critic for New York Times Magazine, and a hell of a nonfiction writer to boot (his recent essay collection “Known and Strange Things” unambiguously demonstrates this). “Blind Spot” proves that Cole’s singular talents extend into picture-making, yes, but more than that, it shows what an extraordinarily gifted writer he is. Continue reading…

clichés-definitionClichés Are Dangerous | Read It Forward

There is more danger in certain clichés than the risk of confusion, or the laziness of pat phrases—some of them perpetuate really lousy ideas that, if you stop to think about their implications for a few minutes, don’t hold up to scrutiny at all, and seem in fact to be effective only because they’re clichés, so common that people forget to question the inherent philosophies underneath them. Here are a few dangerous clichés that I hope we stop using—or at least cease employing them so reductively. Continue reading…

Books-About-BooksThe Best Books About Books, Part 3 | Literary Hub

My 3rd annual Books About Books piece over at LitHub!

Books about books might seem like an insular category designed only for those predisposed to such subjects…but it’s also an important genre. Our writers can tell us not only how another writer may have accomplished X or Y achievements, they can also reveal, by their very focus and attention, those authors whose work has influenced them and others as they’ve navigated the literary landscape. That is, their choices alone count for something. Continue reading…

PrintAt Home in Ruins: Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke | Fiction Advocate

Kristen Radtke’s meditative graphic memoir Imagine Wanting Only This ruminates on ruin and decay—of an abandoned city, of a genetically faulty heart, of love and relationships, and, in the long run, of all things. Through black-and-white images with stark juxtapositions, Radtke braids together the death of her favorite uncle, Dan, the end of her engagement to her college boyfriend, her travels to various ruins around the world, and her own struggle to find a home somewhere that isn’t in the process of deteriorating. Continue reading…

8618636763_309f95c7fd_o-1-Terms of Concealment: Junot Díaz and the Language of Masculinity | Devise Literary

What’s interesting about these terms isn’t what they mean so much as how they’re employed: Díaz always uses them when discussing relationships, both sexual and emotional. His Spanish, then (which is never translated for non-Spanish speakers), not only adds to the authenticity of the narrator, but also functions, for the English-speaking reader, as a distancing device between Yunior and his actions, his seeming lack of moral compass. This usage both emphasizes the words and obfuscates their meaning. And finally, because Spanish is Yunior’s native language, his method of obscuring his inner self employs the words of his earliest—and one might argue, most fundamental—form of expression. Continue reading…

rorshachLiterature as a Kind of Rorschach Test | Read It Forward

The story of Rorschach’s infamous test and the life it took on after its creator’s death is told in Damion Searls’s new book The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing, and it’s gotten me thinking about the inkblots in a literary way, combining Rorschach’s projective interpretation and Kerner’s inspiration-based poetry—that is, to see what controversial books from the past (and what was written about them) compared to the language used to describe the same or very similar books now. To give literature, in other words, a cultural Rorschach test. Continue reading…

140210_r24626-1200A Promise Matters More Than Snow: Rethinking Robert Frost | Devise Literary

Maxine Kumin’s “The Final Poem” suggests something about Frost’s own poetry that many often overlook. Frost tells Kumin and the other fawning poets of Bread Loaf that the audience “can’t take in / half of what you’re giving them.” If we were to believe conventional analyses of Frost’s work, an audience would be able to get everything in one hearing, as many interpretations of Frost’s poetry don’t account for the layers of Frost’s work. Moreover, Frost is often thought of as a poet of nature and rural life, which to me feels a bit like referring to Anne Sexton as merely a poet of domesticity—these descriptions are ostensible; it is what is underneath them that defines them. Let’s take three of Frost’s nature poems—“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Birches,” and “After Apple-Picking,” which are often interpreted as laments on man’s distance from nature—and determine the way that each of these poems shows how nature only offers fleeting respite and temporary transcendence. Nature cannot save us spiritually; it can only place us “toward heaven,” and only then for but a moment. Rather than lament this ephemerality, Frost concludes, “Earth’s the right place for love.” Continue reading…

cover_audinThe Mathematics of History: On Michèle Audin’s One Hundred Twenty-One Days | Kenyon Review

In 1960, the writer Raymond Queneau and the engineer François Le Lionnais founded Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (“workshop of potential literature”), which came to be known by the shorthand Oulipo. It was a literary movement principally focused on restraints—e.g., member Georges Perec’s 1969 novel A Void is a lipogram, a work that deliberately excludes a letter or letters, in Perec’s case the letter “e.” Other members of the distinguished group—which also included many mathematicians and engineers—were Italo Calvino, Marcel Duchamp, and the cartoonist Étienne Lécroart. Thus it was not something one could simply join.

“And then, one day,” the mathematician and writer Michèle Audin wrote recently, “the Oulipo becomes a reality for me: ‘it’ invites me to a meeting.” So Audin became one Oulipo’s few female members, and with the publication of One Hundred Twenty-One Days, she becomes only the second female member to publish a book in English (the first was Anne F. Garréta, author of Sphinx). She does not disappoint Oulipo’s legacy: One Hundred Twenty-One Days is a remarkable novel, a brilliant pastiche of varying styles and forms, elegantly crafted and intricately structured, but also one that never neglects the humane emotions and drama of which great novels are made. Continue reading…

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-1-21-15-pmAspects of the Book | Read It Forward

Most books on literary history focus on the writers and social forces that engendered what we call literature, the abstract totality of creative and intellectual authorship. But over the course of human civilization, there is another story demanding to be heard, and that is the numerous narratives that lead to the book as an object, a literal thing you can hold in your hand. Although it may seem like the more stale story, the history of the book and its myriad parts is as deeply rich and as populated by fascinating figures as any text on a specific writer or movement.

To prove this, I present 7 books on different aspects of, well, the book, beginning with Keith Houston’s The Book, as it is not only a wonderfully engaging and lucid work moving through various details and geographies and centuries, but it’s the perfection foundational text for this list. The Book covers every aspect of our venerated codex, while the rest focus on specific subjects or developments. The book is mankind’s greatest achievement, so it’s only right that we should celebrate all the people and all the circumstances that helped usher it into existence. Continue reading…

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-12-16-59-pmRethinking the Novel | Read It Forward

It seems like an obvious question to answer: what, exactly, is a novel? Turns out the answer’s one of the slippery concepts that as soon as you try to define, you begin to qualify and edit and revise, and then qualify some more, until little by little, the number of amendments to the original statement are so great and their permissibility so near total that, hell, the damn definition itself could be considered a novel. How many pages or words differentiate a novel from a novella? What form must it take? Must it always have plot? Characters? And what of typography? Any rules on that front? Would a hand-written novel in a dollar-store journal of a friend of yours feel like a novel the same way a published novel by that same friend would? And I mean the word feel in a literal sense. How that journal simply didn’t have those features—of texture, mechanics, and design—that typically evoke the referent novel in a person’s mind but which actually have more to do with fiction’s commodification than with its aesthetics. A novel, then, is mostly a commercial distinction, as in, e.g., How do we sell this book? The answer to this, as everyone knows, is nevernuance. It’s short and sweet. It’s simplicity and catchiness, something a potential consumer can see, comprehend, and remember after a brief exposure. So something like “autofictional memoir blended with criticism and journalism”? Nobody’s gonna get that, let alone remember it. As these generic terms get stamped on books for better marketability, the divisions between the various categories get more and more distinct and less forgiving to cross, and like all fences they keep out just as much as they keep in, and soon the gaps have grown so vast that certain writers who seem able to nimbly and indiscriminately hop over them are viewed with as much perplexity as esteem. And so well if it’s not the page it’s printed on or its length, and if it’s not inherently plot-driven or character-filled, and if it’s the seeming pervasiveness of an understood definition is merely the result of repeated and successful branding on the part of publishers, then what the hell is it? A novel is a useful umbrella for the many torrents of fictional art. But when it rains it pours, and under harsh duress, the umbrella breaks like any of us. Read these.

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-1-00-40-pmArk by Julian Tepper | New York Times Book Review

ABSOLUTELY THRILLED TO REVIEW FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW AGAIN!

In the early chapters of his second novel, “Ark,” Julian Tepper introduces three generations of the once-wealthy Arkin family through a series of phone calls that shift perspective from one speaker to another to another. It’s an efficient and notably cinematic technique: One may recall the introduction of the grown-up children in Wes Anderson’s film “The Royal Tenenbaums,” which also uses correspondence to usher each character onscreen. (This could explain why the book jacket explicitly aligns “Ark” with Anderson’s work.) But in a novel, cinematic methods and the omniscient narration necessary to pull them off can lead to little hiccups of confusion, as when we first meet Rebecca Arkin, the nearest thing the book has to a protagonist: “Rebecca was in the middle of lunch. The man keeping her company was Randy Nobel, her colleague at the firm.” If this were a movie, the audience, having seen “the man keeping her company,” would of course implicitly understand to whom the narrator is referring — but a novel has no such visual cue, so when “the man” is mentioned here, I went back just to make sure he hadn’t been brought up previously. Continue reading…

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12 Books of Poetry You Should Read Right Now |
Read It Forward

Although poetry is often dismissed as an almost anachronistic form, in my opinion, poets are offering some of the most vital work being written today. Like artful reporters from the front line, poets communicate experience one step beyond autobiography, as if they’ve set their heartbeats to music. Great poets record their footsteps as they move through life; their records aren’t exact but are more like sketching an object without looking at the paper, or a tape of one’s self humming a song one hopes to remember—the point lies in the idiosyncrasies of the lines, the particularities of the hum. And these histories are truer and much more representative future relics of our present era, for it is not the facts they report or the ideologies they extol but the rhythm of their soulfulness, and the melodies of their humanity, that best capture what it’s like to live today. Historians should always begin with poetry. So here are 12 books for posterity, and for you, reader, to take the temperature of today. Continue reading…

Spoiler-AlertThe Spoils of Literature | Literary Hub

It’s like that thing in When Harry Met Sally… where Harry says that he always reads the last page of a book before he starts it to make sure it’ll be worthwhile, and then later in the movie we actually see him do this, but as he does he gets a phone call from Sally, who asks him what he’s up to, to which he responds, “Just finishing a book.” The joke, obviously, is that he no more finished it than someone who only knows that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father has seen The Empire Strikes Back. Harry has learned the facts of the ending, but none of the context that might grant them meaning and emotional power. But if we’re to ponder for a moment the phrase spoiler alert, it seems as if being made aware of how a story concludes is in some way akin to having actually experienced said story. Unlike Harry, when such information doesn’t promote a narrative’s worth; instead, it destroys it. Continue reading…

635975461622081858-1023457797_booksThe List of Books That Saved My Life | Read It Forward

So anyway, I moved to Las Vegas to go to school, which, I know, sounds ridiculous, but it’s true: I was to attend UNLV and live in a house my friend Greg’s father owned. Despite the promise of Twice the Jobs! ™, I couldn’t find any work. In Ohio, I’d had a job since high school, so suddenly, when living in a new city where I knew like three people and had no job, free time opened up before me like a vast desert after a long tunnel ride. A non-drinker and socially anxious to boot, I wound up reading a lot of books in those first months. I read The Great GatsbyAnna KareninaDublinersCandideNine StoriesFranny and Zooey, and A Confederacy of Dunces. I got super into theater, reading David Mamet, Samuel Beckett, Neil Labute, and Tom Stoppard. Contemporary literature, too: Dave Eggers, Chuck Klosterman, Saul Williams, Zadie Smith, David Sedaris, Tom Perrotta, Don Delillo, Nicholson Baker, and Nick Horby. I was too dumb and selfish and short-sighted to realize how white and male virtually all these authors were, but though I had been a reader since I could remember, I had never gobbled up books so voluminously. So impressed was I with my homogeneously hetero-normative erudition, in fact, I wanted to count them, to know exactlyhow many I’d read. So I made a list.

I felt small in Vegas, not merely in the sense of being one among so many, but also unequipped to strive for a life I wanted, because Vegas, being no-place, gave my existence there a purgatorial hum, and, being all-places, it never let me forget just how much was out there waiting to overtake me. When I finished itemizing the books I’d read and the total for the year came to 47 books, it was an act against that sense of smallness: I was preparing, to the extent that I could, for life, and I was learning, progressing, developing, and I needed something to reinforce my efforts, some suggestion of accomplishment to nudge me onwards. Continue reading…

PhillipRothFeatImageAll of Philip Roth’s Novels, Ranked | Read It Forward

Philip Roth is—or, since he’s not dead but retired, I should probably say was—the best American novelist of the 20th century. Between Goodbye, Columbus in 1959 and Nemesis in 2010, Roth published 27 novels and four books of nonfiction, and he won three PEN/Faulkner Awards, two National Book Awards, two National Book Critics Circle Awards, two WH Smith Literary Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, the Man Booker International Prize, the PEN/Nabokov Award, the Franz Kafka Award, the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, a Gold Medal in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the 2010 National Humanities Medal given by Barack Obama in the East Room of the White House. Whew. In a 2006 New York Times Book Review poll of writers, critics, and editors regarding the “single best work of American fiction published in the past 25 years,” six of Roth’s novels made the cut, more than anyone else. Critic A.O. Scott noted, “If we had asked for the single best writer of fiction of the past 25 years, he would have won.” Continue reading…

literarysleepinessThe Unacknowledged Obstacle of Literary Sleepiness | Read It Forward

So I want to throw my two cents into this non-conversation and try to elucidate how sleepiness is a regular part of my reading (and thus professional) life, and see what that means, if anything. Of course it’s different for everyone, and I can imagine there are some readers for whom maintaining energy isn’t a problem at all. I’m only talking about my own experience—which from talking to numerous literary types seems at least relatable, if not universal—and I don’t presume to speak for anyone else other than myself.

Here’s the thing: reading and writing exhaust. They expend my intellect, deplete my creative capabilities, and tire my body. These are not, though, inherently bad things; in fact the only reason reading and writing have those effects is because they are both extraordinarily operative—it is difficult, then, to engage with them half-heartedly, because it’s basically the equivalent of not engaging at all. It would be like exercising without a rising heart rate: you may look like you’re doing the same thing as everyone else at Planet Fitness, but you aren’t getting any thinner or any healthier. Continue reading…

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Biographies That WON’T Make You Sick and Kill You

(underline ‘won’t’ because that makes it look like the other ones…)

Read It Forward

Look, I understand that in some fundamental way one’s interest in a biography cannot be completely divorced from one’s interest in the subject. So, unlike other forms of literary art, even biographies of wide acclaim don’t necessarily presume a large readership outside of the already converted. Despite knowing this, I’m just going to say it: for the most part, biographies are really boring—and here’s the kicker—even when the subject is of great importance to me. I’ve picked up lengthy tomes on some of my favorite writers, only to find myself drowning in the banal minutia of ancestors and hometown history and childhood development—and before long I’ll close the book in frustration, muttering something about how I couldn’t give a shit about what my heroes were like as kids, at least not in punishingly comprehensive detail. Get to the part, I think, where they accomplish the things that made me want to read a biography about them in the first place!

The reason I’m complaining at all is because I really love a good biography, and moreover, I really need them to do my work. So when I come across ones that hold my attention—or even rivet it, in some cases—I’m profoundly appreciative of its author for turning what might have been a grueling and tedious chore into a joyous and illuminating experience.

borrowing-900x675Against Borrowing Books | Read It Forward

There is a certain tyranny to borrowing books.

For me, the reading of books—and not just books in the general sense but very specific ones—is a vital activity, one that, yes, stumbles and stutters and loses its way, but it is my progress nonetheless. Now, the choosing of my next read is, most of the time, a wonderfully open task, as I am able to pick from all the books I’ve yet to read, which is literally most books that have ever existed. Faced with such bewildering numbers and such endless choice, I rely wholly on my literary whim—that is, whichever author or genre or style or subject is doing it for me at that moment, that is what I ought to pursue, because the passion that results from inarticulate interest is how I will get through even the tiniest portion of literature’s outrageous multiplicity. Continue reading…

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14 Complex, Ambitious, and Experimental Novels by Women | Read It Forward

The authors of the following tomes seem less driven by the feat of epicness and more by its potential for infinite complexity. These women—some young and precocious, some experienced and wise—pursue their stories and ideas with all the same brilliance and playfulness and buoyancy and seriousness of the Joyce’s, the Pynchon’s, and the Wallace’s of the world. The only difference is these women rarely seem to shout about their accomplishments, and the world doesn’t present them as competitors in the big, ambitious novel game. But literature is not a game—or at least it isn’t one in the sense these men believe it to be. The art alone, independent of its relation to the gifts of its maker, is what is entered into the fray, and its value (the art’s) is where any sort of competition might play out—that is, through the experience of readers. A novel written with extra-textual goals (e.g., status, respect, fame) seems like a real waste of effort and time.

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7 Single-Sitting Stunners | Read It Forward

I recently sat down to read Max Porter’s extremely well-acclaimed novel Grief is the Thing with Feathers, a genre blend of essay, poetry, and fable, and without once moving from my position, I devoured the entire thing. The experience—of both the beauty of Porter’s writing and the book’s short length—gave me that rare and satisfying feeling of wholeness, of having internalized an entire narrative with all the varied undulations of its emotional trajectory, the sensation of getting in one fowl swoop the intentions of an artist’s work. Short stories can yield such a sense of completeness, but these for economical reasons often don’t (or can’t to the same extent) allow the reader enough empathetic exposure to the character to invest in their plight and their humanity—we’re usually given the plight.

book-tents-1The Best Books About Books, Part II | Literary Hub

Last summer, I wrote a piece about a number of books that were themselves about books, a category that happens to be my very favorite. Though I maybe should have anticipated it (it was, after all, a decidedly literary essay on a decidedly literary website), “The Best Books About Books” attracted a lot of attention—more so, I’m sure, because of the titles collected than for the quality of my writing. But nonetheless I was pleased to see those works receiving due promotion, which is mainly the only joy a critic experiences.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 11.36.52 AMRemarkable Books Written by Teenagers |
Read It Forward

Nearly every season, the literary world is introduced to some wunderkind writer who, at some stupidly young age like 21 or 22, has crafted a debut novel (usually) that is wise way beyond its fresh-faced author’s years. The attention placed on their books has as much to do with the novelty of precocity as it does with the merit of the work, if only because most of us, having lived through our early 20s without producing a masterpiece, know how difficult such a feat is to accomplish. Moreover, many readers enter into the highly extolled books of the preternaturally gifted with dubiousness, almost a suspicion of such quickly realized talent, so that upon publication the impassioned responses are drastically polarized between those much impressed by the early effort and those for whom it is nothing more than crass publicity on the part of the publisher and less the insights of some twenty-something genius.

Surrounded by BooksWhy Books Are the Best Roommates | Read It Forward

Living with someone is like dancing in that it’s less about particular moves and more about staying in rhythm with your partner. No matter what your skill level, you have to move in some kind of unison with the other person, and while I’ve had my fair share of wonderful roommates, still, everyone I’ve ever lived with—family, friends, girlfriends, doesn’t matter—inevitably has the talk with me. Sometimes it’s introduced casually, like it’s no big deal, while other times it’s a serious, sit-down discussion, a whole thing, but ultimately what they all boil down to is this: “Jonathan, you’ve got to do something about these books.” At this point their eyes scan whatever room we happen to be in (again, doesn’t matter) at all the piles and stacks and bags and shelves of books, variously sized heaps littering the floor like miniature skylines, spilling out onto everything, occupying chairs and tables and counters and cabinets. Then they look back at me, their expression articulating an implied, You know what I’m saying?

9780139230035-us-30014 Posthumous Classics from the 14th Century to the Present | Read It Forward

Classic works of literature can seem so historical, so chiseled in stone by antiquity or genius, that it’s easy to forget the frail human beings behind them. We forget—or overlook—that all writers from Shakespeare to Sophocles possess the same weaknesses and idiosyncrasies as the rest of us, because their artistry not only survived history but created it. So ancient tragedies like “Antigone” and “Oedipus the King” become foundational texts around which subsequent tragedies are designed, retroactively creating the impression that the originals, rather than copied templates, were always crystalized paragons. Continue reading…

man-withbookshelfDon’t Ask Me What My Favorite Book Is
Read It Forward

The problem with naming one’s favorite book has less to do with the futility of reducing all literary experiences into one representative title and more to do with the inexactitude of the question. The query “What is your favorite book?” is too vague, too open-ended to be answered by any serious reader. But if the inquiry were amended to, say, “What are your most significant reading experiences?” or “What do you think are the most historically important books?” or “What are books that had, at the time, a major impact on you as a person or as a reader?” Now these questions may have some answers—maybe not one but at least these are much more conducive to responses.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 11.28.50 AM14 Unique and Innovative Short Story Collections | Read It Forward

To celebrate National Short Story month, here are fourteen innovative and unique story collections, the kinds that contain wonderful tales but also add up to a singular, cumulative experience. Instead of disparate narratives one after the other, these are stories as riffs, as meditations, as commentary, as thematic development, and collections as standalone works of art, which show that stories needn’t be isolated figures, like trees, but can become, in the right hands, forests and jungles—or better yet they can be turned into houses, and it doesn’t matter that you can’t recognize the individual trees.

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102 Indispensable Works of Literary Criticism | Literary Hub

Anyway, so I spent my Superbowl Sunday organizing the most important section of any critic’s collection: literary criticism and biography. Not only is this my favorite shit to read, but I also refer to them so often that they’re also the most practically necessary. After I finished, I posted a photo of the beautifully and temporarily full shelves (I’ve already pulled like six books off that I’m using for current pieces) on Twitter, and someone asked me if I had any particular favorites. I wasn’t at home when I got the tweet, so to even consider responding at the time was unthinkable. I pondered for a few seconds  before immediately becoming overwhelmed. When I returned later and stared at the shelves, it occurred to me that I’ve been asked this question quite a few times. Perhaps this is because as a self-identifying literary critic there isn’t much else for people to ask me—this field doesn’t exactly make for the most riveting party talk. But whatever the reason, I thought I’d put together a list of the criticism that I most admire and to which I repeatedly refer. This is, of course, an extremely limited list, taken exclusively from books I own. Also for the sake of my sanity, I excluded all single-subject biographies and criticism on film or music; only fiction, poetry, and drama. Memoirs counted only if they directly involve other writers and/or the literary landscape of the era. It is in no way meant to be a list of the world’s indispensible literary criticism, only my own, and only so far.

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 11.44.24 AMThis Should Be Written in the Present Tense by Helle Helle | New York Times Book Review

I’M IN THE FUCKING NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW!!! I CAN’T BELIEVE MY LIFE!!

“For the last 20 years, Helle Helle’s novels and short stories have made her a star in her native Denmark, where she regularly receives awards and acclaim. Denmark is also where, according to her biography, Helle “lives in a forest.” What a fittingly magical dwelling for Helle, who — judging from her first novel to be translated into English, “This Should Be ­Written in the Present Tense” — has enchanting gifts as a storyteller.” (More.)

saintfriend_cover_store_FINAL-218x300Saint Friend by Carl Adamshick | Tupelo Quarterly
If someone had the gumption to go around and ask everyday Americans to name a poem, nearly all of them would certainly supply an answer. One might hear, as a reply, Poe’s “The Raven” or Hughes’s “A Dream Deferred” or Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” But if this same pollster were to ask these citizens to name a single volume of poetry, a collection, how many would be able to come up with a title?

SketchesCrude Sketches Done in Quick Succession by Andrew Brininstool | Necessary Fiction
Sometimes Brininstool’s stories recall Tom Perrotta, the master of suburban ennui, while at other times there is the undeniable influence of George Saunders. You get the feeling of a novice (though very talented) writer finding his voice. The book works better in individual stories than it does as a whole. The two best pieces here are worth the cover price, and it seems no coincidence that they do not feature callow, equivocating men.

How to Be Both by Ali Smith | The Rumpus83.Ali Smith-How to be both jacket
How To Be Both
is, after The Accidental, The First Person and Other Stories, There but for the, and Artful, Smith’s fifth masterpiece in a row. Her inimitable writing sneaks into you with its deceptive readability, but it’s her radiating intelligence that stays with you. Her mind works wonders on a theme, able to find lovely and profound connections in seemingly anything. She’s a passionately caring writer whose emotional generosity spills out into her pages, trickling out of her books like an overflowing champagne flute.

fall14currentE.E. Cummings: A Life | The Georgia Review, Fall 2014
I review Susan Cheever’s E.E. Cummings: A Life in the newest issue of The Georgia Review! Cummings was a major influence on my younger self––probably the writer who inspired me to start writing. Later, I was the Program Director at Forest Hills Cemetery, where Cummings is buried. And now a review in a major literary journal. All because of this wonderful poet and person. I owe him my life, probably. Click here to order a copy!

08-the-novel-a-biography-michael-schmidtThe Art of The Novel | The Millions
I am going to try to convince you that The Novel is one of the most important works of both literary history and criticism to be published in the last decade. The reason Schmidt’s book is so effective and important has to do with its approach, its scope, and its artistry, which all come together to produce a book of such varied usefulness, such compact wisdom, that it’ll take a lot more than a few reviews to fully understand its brilliant contribution to literary study.